While Malaysian businesses were helping China in the 1980s through the 1990s, China is playing a vital role in the Malaysian economy now. Dr Huang Huikang, China’s Ambassador to Malaysia, gives his views on bilateral ties in an interview with Ho Wah Foon and Yimie Yong of The Star.
Q: How would you describe Malaysia-China relations now?
A: Over the past four years, China-Malaysia relations have developed speedily in all aspects to become more matured and stable. Strong progress has been made in the development of infrastructure, major projects, energy, agriculture, finance, defence and security. We also see a deepening in cultural exchanges, as well as education and medical activities.
Our bilateral ties have enjoyed a “golden era” in the first 40 years. The next 40 years will see a “diamond era”.
As China’s ambassador to Malaysia, I have witnessed many historic moments in the development of bilateral ties between these two nations. I feel proud to have contributed to bringing our aspiration to full fruition.
Q: What bilateral milestones have been created?
A: We have seen four milestones in recent years.
First milestone: our relations are at historical highs. President Xi Jinping visited Malaysia in 2013 and Premier Li Keqiang came in 2015. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has visited China seven times.
While attending the Belt and Road Summit in Beijing last May, he exchanged more views with our leaders on cooperation with regards to major projects.
Second milestone: China continues to be Malaysia’s largest trading partner – for the eighth year in a row. China has become the largest source of foreign direct investment and the largest contractor in the construction sector.
It is the largest non-Asean source of tourists for Malaysia, with arrivals expected to hit three million this year. This means Malaysia will get foreign exchange revenue of RM15bil from Chinese tourists.
Third milestone: Cooperation in major projects is flourishing. Examples are: China-Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park, Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park, Malacca Coastal Industrial Park, East Coast Rail Link, Sabah Gas Pipeline, North-South oil products pipeline, Alibaba and Geely investments, etc.
The fourth milestone: In 2015, China Construction Bank issued the first global Renminbi bond in Malaysia. Xiamen University Malaysia, the first offshore campus of our state-owned university, opened its doors in 2016.
Another significant event in 2016 was the signing of a pact to buy China-made coastal surveillance warships.
Q: Will South China Sea disputes be resolved bilaterally? What could be the possible scenario?
A: The South China Sea was a peaceful stretch of waters until the 1960s when new developments and issues surfaced.
However, China and Asean nations maintained peaceful dialogue after Asean was formed in 1967.
Without the interference of external forces, the South China Sea would have stayed peaceful and stable.
China had proposed that it would deal with Asean nations with overlapping sovereign claims on a bilateral basis, while the overall peace and stability of the South China Sea would be the joint effort of China and Asean. Most Asean nations – including claimants Malaysia and Brunei – had supported this proposal.
Although Malaysia is a claimant country, this has not prevented the smooth development of our bilateral relations, due mainly to the wisdom of the leaders in giving priority to economic development and cooperation.
The emphasis is placed on dialogue to resolve disputes, and to ensure disagreement will not affect ties.
Last May, all parties agreed to a framework on the “Code of Conduct” on the South China Sea. Against this backdrop, I believe Malaysia and China will continue to solve the South China Sea issues via dialogue.
This will not only serve the best interest of the people in both nations but will also ensure there is continued peace, stability and prosperity in this region.
Q: Will Malaysia continue to be a key beneficiary of China’s Belt and Road initiative?
A: Malaysia is one of the first countries that supported the Belt and Road initiative propounded by President Xi in 2013, and one of the countries enjoying early harvests from China’s investments.
The ECRL project will benefit 4.4 million Malaysians along the east coast of peninsular Malaysia when it is completed.
Future opportunities under the Belt and Road plan will be seen in the collaboration in electronics, oil and gas, palm oil, technology, halal products, fisheries, finance and e-commerce.
I believe Malaysia will continue to work closely with China on Belt and Road projects in its quest for speedier and better economic development.
I wish the country a happy 60th birthday and many years of prosperity ahead.